Kazakhs say order returned to riot-hit town

AP News
Posted: Dec 17, 2011 7:56 AM
Kazakhs say order returned to riot-hit town

Kazakhstan's president on Saturday imposed a three-week state of emergency in an oil town where 10 people were killed in a clash between police and demonstrators.

Authorities said that order had been restored in Zhanaozen, a city of 90,000 in Kazakhstan's far southwest. The order by President Nursultan Nazarbayev allows heightened security measures including restricted access to the city and an overnight curfew.

Cellular telephone and Internet connections in Zhanaozen have been out of service since the Friday violence, making independent verification of the security situation impossible.

Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry laid responsibility for the clashes on a small group of provocateurs allegedly set on disrupting a public celebration marking the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan's independence.

"These were people determined to attack peaceful celebrants as a way to gain maximum attention and to create as much destruction as possible," Kazakhstan's Ambassador to the U.S. Erlan Idrissov said in an emailed statement.

The city has been the site of a monthslong sit-in by oil workers seeking higher wages. Many of those workers were fired over the summer.

State-controlled KazMunaiGas Exploration Production said some of its employees at the UzenMunaiGas facility in Zhanaozen did not go to work overnight Friday over concern for their safety.

The Prosecutor General's Office said UzenMunaiGas' headquarters was one of several buildings set alight, along with the mayor's office and a hotel.

In an another sign that Kazakhstan's authoritarian government were attempting to contain information on developments in Zhanaozen, Internet users have reported being unable to open several independent news websites or Twitter since the disturbances began.

Nazarbayev has kept a tight lid on any signs of public discontent during his 20 years of rule. The apparent scale of unrest in Zhanaozen will come as a shock to Nazarbayev's government, which has also been combating an unprecedented surge in radical Islamist-inspired violence in recent months.